2010 Georgia Code
§ 45-13-51 - Study of historical documents; public displays of The Foundations of American Law and Government

O.C.G.A. 45-13-51 (2010)
45-13-51. Study of historical documents; public displays of The Foundations of American Law and Government

(a) The General Assembly finds and determines:

(1) The General Assembly has directed the Division of Archives and History of the State of Georgia to encourage the study of historical documents;

(2) There is a need to educate and inform the public about the history and background of American law;

(3) The public courthouses and judicial facilities of this state are an ideal forum in which to display educational and informational material about the history and background of American law; and

(4) A basic knowledge of American constitutional history is important to the formation of civic virtue in our society;

(b) Each municipality and political subdivision of this state shall be authorized to post the Foundations of American Law and Government display, as described in subsection (c) of this Code section, in a visible, public location in the judicial facilities of such municipality or political subdivision.

(c) The Foundations of American Law and Government display shall include:

(1) The Mayflower Compact, 1620;

(2) The Ten Commandments as extracted from Exodus Chapter 20;

(3) The Declaration of Independence;

(4) Magna Carta;

(5) "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key;

(6) The national motto;

(7) The Preamble to the Georgia Constitution;

(8) The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution; and

(9) The description on the image of Lady Justice.

(d) Public displays of the Foundations of American Law and Government shall contain the documents set forth in paragraphs (1) through (9) of subsection (c) of this Code section together with a context for acknowledging formative, historically significant documents in America's heritage as follows:


The Foundations of American Law and Government display contains documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government. The display contains (1) the Mayflower Compact; (2) the Ten Commandments; (3) the Declaration of Independence: (4) Magna Carta; (5) "The Star-Spangled Banner"; (6) the national motto of the United States of America; (7) the Preamble to the Georgia Constitution; (8) the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution; and (9) a picture of Lady Justice.

The Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact was penned by William Bradford on November 11, 1620, on the Mayflower before the Pilgrims made landfall at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Compact was the first written constitution in the New World. William Bradford described the reasoning behind the Compact when he stated in the Compact, "This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word."

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.

The Declaration of Independence

Perhaps the single most important document in American history, the Declaration of Independence was, as Abraham Lincoln stated, the "frame" into which the Framers placed the Constitution. The Declaration's fundamental premise is that one's right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is not a gift of government. Government is not a giver of rights, but a protector of God-given rights. Moreover, government is a creation of "the governed" and derives all its power from the consent of its people. As the Preamble to the United States Constitution states, "We the People" are the government.

Magna Carta

In 1215, King John of England consented to the demands of his barons and agreed for Magna Carta to be publicly read throughout the land. By this act he bound himself and "our heirs, in all things and all places for ever" to grant to the people of his kingdom the rights pronounced in Magna Carta. By signing Magna Carta, King John brought himself and England's future rulers within the rule of law. The rule of law places a restraint on the exercise of arbitrary government power, and it places all people and civil government under law. The American patriots, therefore, waged war against England to preserve liberties originating in thirteenth century England. A distinction, however, is noted between Magna Carta and the American concept of liberty. While Magna Carta is a guarantee from a king that he will follow the law, the Constitution of the United States is the establishment of a government consisting of, and created for, "We the People."

"The Star-Spangled Banner"

Guarding the entrance to Baltimore harbor via the Patapsco River during the War of 1812, Fort McHenry faced almost certain attack by British forces. Major George Armistead, the stronghold's commander, was ready to defend the fort, but he wanted a flag that would identify his position, one whose size would be visible to the enemy from a distance. The flag that was made for the fort was 30 feet by 42 feet. Anxiously awaiting news of the battle's outcome was a Washington, D.C., lawyer named Francis Scott Key. Key had visited the enemy's fleet to secure the release of a Maryland doctor who had been abducted by the British after they left Washington. The lawyer had been successful in his mission, but he could not escort the doctor home until the attack ended. So he waited on a flag-of-truce sloop anchored eight miles downstream from Fort McHenry.

During the night, there had been only occasional sounds of the fort's guns returning fire. At dawn, the British bombardment tapered off. Had the fort been captured? Placing a telescope to his eye. Key trained it on the fort's flagpole. There he saw the large garrison flag catch the morning breeze. It had been raised as a gesture of defiance, replacing the wet storm flag that had flown through the night. Thrilled by the sight of the flag and the knowledge that the fort had not fallen, Key took a letter from his pocket and began to write some verses on the back of it. Later, after the British fleet had withdrawn, Key checked into a Baltimore hotel and completed his poem on the defense of Fort McHenry. He then sent it to a printer for duplication on handbills, and within a few days the poem was put to the music of an old English song. Both the new song and the flag became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and became a rallying cry for the American Patriots during the rest of the war.

The National Motto

The motto was derived from the line "And this be our motto, 'In God is our trust'" in the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The phrase first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and became obligatory on all U.S. currency in 1955. In accordance with Public Law No. 851 passed at the Second Session of the 84th Congress of the United States, July 30, 1956, the national motto of the United States became "In God We Trust."

The Preamble to the Georgia Constitution

The Preamble to the Georgia Constitution celebrates the ideas of free government, justice, peace, happiness, and liberty. Government is a creation of "the governed" and derives all its power from the consent of its people. The people, therefore, desiring a civilized society, created and ordained the Constitution of the State of Georgia.

The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution

During the debates on the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered. The Bill of Rights is still a vital and powerful force in American government, shaping our laws and serving as a check on the exercise of government power.

Lady Justice

Lady Justice has become a symbol of the fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor. The blindfold represents a system of justice that is blinded to all prejudices or favor. The scales represent justice that is administered fairly and the sword represents justice that is authoritative. Lady Justice is a symbol of the American system of justice and the ideals it embodies.

(e) All documents which are included in the Foundations of American Law and Government displays shall be posted on paper not less than 11 x 14 inches in dimension and shall be framed in identically styled frames. No one document shall be displayed more prominently than another.

(f) In no event shall any state funding be used for a display of the Foundations of American Law and Government.

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